Dawoud Bey’s MFAH photography exhibit shows off an American original

by AryanArtnews
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Photographer Daud Bay’s solo exhibition “Daud Bay: The American Project” will be held on Thursday, March 3, 2022 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Nearly 90 works by Bay have been on display for nearly 50 years.

Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Photographer / Staff Photographer

Before his godfather gave him a camera belonging to his godfather, Dawoud Bey was convinced that his future was restlessly sitting on a wooden stick and stretched membrane in a drum kit. Over the last half century, Bey has created a space for himself as a leading photographer. But when asked about his work, he steers from visual arts to music.

“John Coltrane is my lasting influence,” says 69-year-old Bay. I don’t have to think about it. Watch John Coltrane evolve as an artist, his ambitions grow, and the shape of his music changes. …please. “

From bebop accompaniment to bandleaders to highly progressive music-related spiritual seekers, Coltrane’s path was Bay’s path through another medium. Bay gave up the camera drumstick given to him. As a teenager in the late 1960s, he witnessed a formative exhibition in New York called “Harlem on My Mind.” Bay then took his interest and influence and paved the way for an unprecedented path — half a century later — how it connects the old and the new, history and how it is curated, and news. It remains vibrant for the culture and our complex present.

Drummers do more than keep time. They add decorations to advance the music and tweak it in new directions. Bay’s abandoned crafts clearly work through his art as a photographer. Held this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, “Daud Bay: The American Project” is Bay as an artist through Harlem’s portraits and candidates taken in the early 1970s, suggesting a brave vision of life and time. It captures the development of. And America.

Rethinking history

Where should we start this remarkable exhibition? It actually started from the beginning and is the first photo of the people of Harlem taken by Bay in the early 1970s. But like Coltrane, Bay did not follow a single linear path. The exhibition tells a story, but over time, it tells a story through twists and turns. There is a comprehensive story in this first view of Bay’s work. His latest photographs can be seen at the end of the exhibition, including some works not seen in New York or San Francisco. This is a bonus that MFAH will get as it becomes the third stop on this tour of Bay’s work.

And these latest photos from his “In This Here Place” series are a fascinating part of Bay’s story. First, the bay, which seems to feel more light than it looks, is basking in the sun alongside the open doors of a Louisiana hut. Of the most obscure planes of the door, this is probably the third obscure plane for those who see it. It is usually on the horizontal side at the same height as the armpit. Bay’s photographs imbue with a painting-like texture. The sliver on this door has shadows around it and explodes in the foreground. Leaning forward, despite being a photograph, it looks more and more like a painting.

Dawoud Bey, “American Project”

when:Wednesday-Sunday until May 30

where:Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet

detail:$ 18- $ 23; 713-639-7300, mfah.org

Given the complex approach Bay takes to his technique, such small details make sense. Raise a painter and the bay will light up. I asked about his portrait, and Bay was warmed up by the observation that it was probably infiltrated with Caravaggio-style lighting and a sense of darkness around it.

“Caravaggio was huge,” he says. “When it comes to articulation of people, the dramatic use of light and shadow …”

Bay laughs. “Whenever I was making some of these portraits, I kept moving the lights until they were called’enough Caravaggio’, without being overly dramatic. His work is what I absorbed as part of my language. “

“As you can see from the scales and palette, he knows the works of old master paintings,” said Malcolm Daniel, MFAH’s photo curator.

Make old things new

Bay says that the 50 years represented by the “American Project” represent a particular evolution. Like Coltrane, he absorbed what he had experienced and looked for ways to renew it.

The portrait of Bay Harlem from the early to mid-1970s is eye-catching. A child wearing oversized sunglasses leaning on the table with great confidence in front of the theater. An elderly black man in a bowler hat and bow tie breaks the perfection of his tailoring as his arms lean against his leaning forward. Bey does not shrink these images and remains powerful in capturing time and place. But they are also the earliest in the flow of time and history for him. They are his first known work. He used them as entrances to dig deeper into the history of America and American Africans. He also sought to find a way to free the photo from releasing the shutter from time and place.

Bay’s job is the opposite river, it turns out. He started filming the neighborhood. But then he wanted to dig deeper and draw a string of history and territory to see where they led.

The “American Project” guides viewers beyond a single image.

“The musician was a model for me in that he kept moving forward while reinventing himself,” he says.

Therefore, the portrait of Harlem holding the exhibition leads to various collections taken by Bay.

The work exhibited with Bey represents an artist who knows that his media is trying to push forward with how it can be applied to the language of forms. One gallery contains pictures of students who have allowed themselves to be shown in the movie, and a short summary of their self is included in the image.

In another series, you can see that Bay is creating a single image from multiple independent photos. He shot indigenous people in Birmingham, Alabama, the same age as the children killed in the 1963 church bombing. And he recently shot children of the same age. He found something in common between the elderly and the young. If the photo was a solid moment, Bay was able to break his idea that the frame of the photo was fixed so that it wouldn’t disappear in time.

“We have pictures here And that now“He says. ” then?? How do you do that? “

Beyond that moment, he found a way to fuse the past and the present into a single work of art.

Light and dark

Bey describes the work of “The Night Comes Tenderly, Black” as an attempt to create a “technical feat.” The image is tweeted at night, but was taken during the day, giving the Bay photo the various textures he was looking for.

If his portrait carries Caravaggio’s whisper, these photographs together in the gallery room create a meditative mood like a Rothko Chapel. They are dark and full of shadows, which are easily interpreted as light hitting different parts of them. Almost all images are present with different gradations of negative space. Like the Rothko Chapel canvas, they invite quiet contemplation. Unlike the giant canvas of the chapel, they are designed to encourage more exciting reflexes.

Bay photographed these landscapes in space along an underground railroad in northern Ohio. It does not duplicate a particular location along the flight of enslaved people. So Bay went near the place where the once enslaved people traveled in hopes of finding freedom.

He captures the relentless landscape with the bodies and clothes of those who seek freedom, all the sharp textures that would have been pulled by the grove and trees.

“I wanted to imagine the passageway in the landscape,” he says.

Bay points out that creeks and other bodies of water were valuable as they ended the dog’s path of tracking the scent of runaway slaves.

“I’m thinking more about materials and media, and I imagine evoking those moments,” says Bay.

Looking back, looking ahead

The MFAH presentation of “Dawoud Bey: An American Project” benefited from a series of pandemic-derived cancellations. Fortunately, these were brought to Houston due to a pandemic. “We were very fortunate to be able to participate in this,” says Daniel.

He points out that MFAH received some additional work for timing. Since the show has already visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Houston has benefited from several photographs from the 2019 and 2020 Bay series “In This Here Place” from various plantations in Louisiana. increase.

His connection with the painter is evident, especially in the way Bay sees the light.

After finishing the Louisiana series, Bay is filming the area around Richmond, Virginia, along the path of slavery, which he says was “the epicenter of slavery infrastructure.”

Through one lens, Bay has worked the other way around for 50 years. He started filming “Black Folk” in New York in the 1970s. He also continued his portrait, trying to find a way to get the photographs to tell the story of American history after the fact. This next project “should bring a sense of integrity to this entire historical project,” says Bay.

He sees the exhibition as “expressing these issues through the field of engagement I have chosen.” Some people engage in other ways. I work at a museum, so I participate in that way. I hope people will join the conversation. “

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  • Andrew Dunsby

    Andrew Dansby covers both local and national culture and entertainment for the Houston Chronicle. He came to Chronicles from Rolling Stone in 2004, where he wrote about music for five years. He had previously been involved in book publishing for five years and worked with George RR Martin’s editor to write the first two books in the series “Game of Thrones” on television. He has been written for Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Texas Music, Playboy and other publications.

    Andrew hates monkeys, dolphins, and the outdoors.

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